Snohomish, Clark counties top state's list for speeding tickets


VANCOUVER, Wash. -- Snohomish and Clark counties have the highest rate of traffic tickets issued for every mile of state and federal highway that run through them, according to a newspaper's analysis.

More than 23,000 tickets were issued in Snohomish County from January to June of this year, which comes out to roughly 83 tickets per highway mile.

Nearly 8,200 tickets were issued in Clark County, or about 66 tickets per highway mile, The Columbian in Vancouver, Wash., reported Sunday.

"We have more troopers working in Clark County than any of the other counties in the district," said Capt. Bob Johnson, who also commands troopers in Cowlitz, Lewis, Skamania and Klickitat counties.

Clark County has more troopers - about 21 - because of traffic volumes, population and calls for service, among other factors, Johnson said. He noted that speed-related crashes are on the rise in the county.

In all, the Washington State Patrol issued more than 280,000 speeding tickets statewide last year, an increase of about 55,000 from the previous year.

To gauge how much attention troopers were giving lead-footed motorists around the state, The Columbian paid the Washington Administrative Office of the Courts in Olympia for a custom computer search of State Patrol speeding tickets in every county in the state from January through June of 2007.

King County, the state's most populous, had the highest total number of tickets issued during the first six months of the year: 25,221. But it ranked fourth in tickets per highway mile behind Kitsap County. Thurston County ranked fifth, followed by Pierce and Spokane counties.

Pend Oreille County had the lowest rate of tickets issued - 156 tickets or about 1.4 per highway mile. Columbia, Ferry and Garfield counties were the only others in the state with less than 2 tickets per highway mile.

More than a year ago, WSP Chief John Batiste asked his troopers to take speeding more seriously.

The reason? Speeding is the leading cause of traffic crashes causing nonfatal injuries and the No. 2 cause of fatal accidents, second only to driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

Batiste's order didn't ask for specific numbers of tickets, and troopers still have the discretion to issue warnings. But the directive changed troopers' thinking: Were they really being nice guys when they issued only a warning? Or were they encouraging more speeding and more crashes?

Motorists now get tickets in 60 percent to 65 percent of speeding stops, up from about 44 percent previously, Trooper Mike Kesler said.

A stretch of Interstate 5 near Woodland in Cowlitz County is on the Department of Transportation's Top 10 list where speeds are most frequently clocked at 90 mph or faster. In the first quarter of this year, the Woodland stretch was No. 3. Since then it's fallen to No. 9.

"We're evidently making an impact down there," Kesler said.

When southbound drivers enter Clark County, they find lower speed limits, initially because of construction projects on I-5. Some don't slow down, which results in more crashes, especially rear-enders, and more speeding tickets.

Another common phenomenon is that drivers in congested areas, frustrated by slow progress, often hit the gas and surpass speed limits when backups clear. Whatever the excuse for speeding, troopers in Clark County have no plans to ease up on enforcement.

"We're not going to ease up," Kesler said. "We're going to continue what we do. Our job is to promote safety to the motoring public in the state of Washington."

The State Patrol has about 600 troopers spread out among eight district offices based on several factors, including population increases, new roads, special traffic problems, road construction projects, traffic volume and calls for service.

The patrol is aggressively searching for recruits to fill 86 vacancies.


Information from: The Columbian,